Libraries and MOOCs

I recently attended Library Camp Sheffield. During a session on developing information literacy, the subject of massively open online courses came up, which set me wondering what opportunities these offer for libraries (and particularly public libraries).

Libraries already offer a valuable information and learning resource in the heart of may communities. They provide internet access for people who don’t have a broadband connection at home, and offer a range of learning sessions. Many of these sessions will focus on basic, essential, skills (such as searching the internet or email use) as well as topics like local and family history. MOOCs, however, could enable these sessions to be widened.

Through online platforms such as Udacity, Coursera and P2PU, learners can access specialist instruction in a wide range of courses. The drawback is a lack of one-to-one support, and (for some) access to the computing resources needed to participate. Could libraries fill this gap?

It might be difficult for community libraries to provide subject-specific support in a range of courses which could range from computer science, to genetics, history and physics. However, the library could bring people together, offering space and resources, while the staff play a facilitative role. Obviously, the “student experience” would not be the same as for university students attending seminars led by tutors with high-level qualifications in the relevant subject. However, the opportunity to “attend” online lectures together, with peer support and encouragement, and to discuss the material face-to-face as well as online, could enhance the learning experience. In any such group, there will be some who find the concepts easier than others. These students could act as peer mentors to those who are finding more difficulty.

With this in mind, I was excited to come across an event that OCLC is running on 18-19 March (which will be broadcast live online):

Moocs and Libraries: Massive opportunities or overwhelming challenges

Looking at the outline programme, it engages with some of the challenges for MOOCs, such as “the challenges for licensing and clearing copyright for materials used in courses”. However, it does look like it is focused on academic settings – I hope there will be some consideration of public libraries.

This, of course, is another reason to defend our libraries from closure.


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